From BHAM To Boston: A Vision For A New Church

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On Sunday we shared some exciting news...

From day one of our church's existence, we’ve said that we do not merely want to be a church plant; rather, we want to be a church that plants churches. Our desire is to fulfill Acts 1:8 – to be witnesses of Jesus from our neighborhoods to New Zealand, and all in between.

Our hope has always been that as we preach the gospel and live in community together, many from within our ranks would be led by the Holy Spirit to go make disciples in other places, both locally and globally.

We see this happen in Acts 13. As the leaders of the church in Antioch fasted and prayed together, the Holy Spirit led them to send out Paul and Barnabas for the sake of gospel mission.

Following this model, our elder team has been in a season of prayer for the past year. We’ve been asking God to lead us in the way we should go and to make his direction for our church clear.

As we’ve prayed together, our hearts have been increasingly united around a particular burden that we now perceive as a prompting from God. We believe the Lord is leading our church to send out one of our elders, Steven Castello, to go to Boston, MA in hopes of planting a church.

Boston is one of the most under-reached cities in our nation. Less than 3% of 5.9 million people who live there are followers of Jesus. It is a city desperate for Jesus, and desperate for more gospel-centered churches.

In our vision statement we say that we want to make the real Jesus known in Birmingham and beyond. We believe that Boston is our "beyond," and we want to mobilize one of our pastors to go there as an ambassador for Christ.

In this season, we are asking everyone to pray with us as we eagerly explore this exciting vision to mobilize the Castellos to go to Boston. We long to follow the Lord’s leading and to be obedient to His will for our church. We are asking God for clarity of direction, unity of heart, and provision of needs as we seek to open-handedly say to God, “Wherever you lead us, we’ll go.”

On October 1st at 6PM we will host an informational "town hall" style meeting where you can learn more about this vision for a new church in Boston and ask questions. Please make plans to come and learn more!

For the Glory and Fame of Christ,

Pastor Andy

3 Reasons Personal Righteousness Matters

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There’s no question that the scriptures teach we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. The Apostle Paul tells us that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16). There is no good deed or act of service we can perform to contribute towards our salvation. We can only be saved by placing our trust in Jesus Christ.

So the question begs...if that is true–that we are saved by grace through faith alone–then is it important for us to pursue righteousness? In a word, YES! Though our righteousness is not meritorious, it is most certainly necessary and critical. Here are 3 reasons why.

1. We are Saved for Good Works

Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created for good works. Apart from Christ, we are unable to do anything that pleases God, but as a result of being united to Jesus through faith, we are enabled to obey God and live according to His Word. Since God has graciously empowered us to act righteously, and since He has created us for this very purpose, we should pursue it!. If we refrain from participating in the good works that God has created us for, then we are rejecting God’s will for our lives and choosing to live in rebellion. 

If you have been united to Christ through faith, then you have been set free from the bondage of sin and given the ability to do what God commands. He does not intend for His children to go through life passively doing whatever they please. He intends for us to actively participate in the good works that He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). 

2. We Have a Living Faith

Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.” In other words, true faith in Christ will always lead to a life of loving obedience to God. While our good works do not save us, they are a necessary part of our Christian faith. Paul reminds us that “our old self was crucified with [Christ]… so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). If we have truly been united with Jesus through faith, then we have been set free from the power of sin. Our faith in Christ is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit who leads us to refrain from sin and to live in holiness and good works. As John Tweeddale puts it, “Christ is the ground of our salvation, faith is the instrument of our salvation, and works are the fruit of our salvation.”

3. We Display the Goodness of the Gospel to the World Through Our Good Works

How can the broken and lost world around us see the goodness of Jesus's Lordship? How can they be led to believe that the gospel is truly good news? Surely not through us refusing to participate in the good works that God intends for us. Jesus tells us that the world will know that we are his disciples if we have love for one another (John 13:35), and that the world will give glory to God when they see us perform good works (Matthew 5:16).

Individuals that do not know have a relationship with Christ ought to see how we live and be so attracted to what they see that they desire Jesus. They should see Jesus in everything we do and  hear Jesus in everything we say. Pursuing righteousness and participating in good works is the way that we shine the light of Jesus to a dark and broken world. 

For Further Reading

Articles:

“The Necessity of Good Works for Christians.” by Tom Hicks
http://founders.org/2017/05/31/the-necessity-of-good-works-for-christians/

“Good Works and the Christian Life.” John Tweeddale, 
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/good-works-christian-life/.

Books:

Discipleship: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Words—Reader’s Edition, edited by Jeffrey B. Kelly.

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, by Richard Foster 

The Great Omission: Rediscovering Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleshipby Dallas Willard


Wes Durrwachter is a student at Beeson Divinity School and a pastoral intern at Immanuel Church. 

Wes Durrwachter is a student at Beeson Divinity School and a pastoral intern at Immanuel Church. 

Understanding the Trinity, Part Two: Why It Matters

GETTING GOD "RIGHT"

In Part One of Understanding The Trinity, Pastor Andy unpacked the nature of God.  Stated again, as Christians, we believe in one God who eternally exists in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person of the godhead is truly and completely God, yet each is distinct from the others.  This week we want to unpack "why" the Trinity matters.  


“There is scarcely a doctrine that is not effected by misunderstanding the doctrine of the Trinity.”

- Don Carson


Our understanding of God as three-in-one fundamentally distinguishes us from other religions, including Muslims and Jews. It is what makes us "Christian". Yet you might wonder, if the deity of Jesus or the Holy Spirit really matters in the long run?  Is the Trinity truly that vital to the Christian faith?  Rob Bell posited a similar question in his book Velvet Elvis when he questioned the necessity of the virgin birth in relation to the person and work of Jesus. Is a deviation from this belief, or a non-Trinitarian understanding of God, that detrimental?  In short, Yes. 

Take flying a plane, for example.  Calculations need to be accurate and precise in order to land at the intended destination.  So, if a pilot is off course by a single degree, it can alter his or her course greatly.  A pilot whose bearings are off by one degree would be off course by 92 feet for every mile traveled. This would put a plane traveling from JFK to LAX off course by 50 miles!  When we get God "wrong", we will get everything else wrong as well.  Don Carson claims, “There is scarcely a doctrine that is not effected by misunderstanding the doctrine of the Trinity.” 

 

THE TRINITY AND SALVATION

Without the Trinity, you lose several core Christian doctrines, including salvation.  The work of redemption is a "Trinitarian" act.  We see this clearly in Ephesians 1 where Paul demonstrates that all three members of the Godhead are actively involved in our salvation.  God the Father is the one who blesses us and chose us for salvation (Ephesians 1:3-4) and adopted us as his children "according to the purpose of his will" (v. 5).  However, while the Father purposed our salvation, it was the Son who "executed" it.  The work of redemption was accomplished through Jesus (v. 5) and the Father's plan was "set forth" in Christ (v. 9).  Verse 7 tells us, 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

Through Jesus we have obtained an inheritance (v. 11) and we hope in Christ because of his work for us (v. 12-13).  In a similar manner, the Holy Spirit plays a unique role that neither the Father nor the Son undertakes.  The Spirit is the seal of the promise, the "guarantee of our inheritance" (v. 13-14).  He makes us alive, gives us a new heart, and continues to press us toward the hope we have received in Christ.  All of this was purposed and could have only been executed by a God who exists in Trinity. 

If you remove the Trinity from your understanding of God, then salvation becomes impossible.  Only God is worthy enough to pay the penalty of offense against Himself.  Yet, the payment for human sin requires human blood.  Without the Son of God taking on flesh, salvation would be impossible because no man could repay the debt our sin requires.  Without God being Triune, God the Son could not have become incarnate through the Holy Spirit. All three members of the Trinity are necessarily involved in the work of redemption.  

J.C. Ryle expounded on the Trinitarian work of salvation, "It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, 'Let us make man'. It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, 'Let us save man'."  We rejoice because God sent his own Son to redeem us from our sin and we are called to God by the work of the Spirit.  This is why any teaching that portrays Jesus or the Holy Spirit as less than God, not only jettisons the Trinity, but loses the core of redemption, as well.


If you remove the Trinity from your understanding of God, then salvation becomes impossible.


THE TRINITY AND PRAYER

All three members of the Godhead are at work when we pray.  In the next section of Ephesians 1, Paul declared that he prayed to the Father on the Ephesians' behalf, that they would be given the Spirit of wisdom in order to more fully know God (v. 15-17).  It is God's design that we would draw unto him in prayer by the power of the Spirit to more fully know the Triune God.  However, we not only petition God in prayer, but members of the Trinity actively join us and effect how we pray.  Romans 8 tells us that the Spirit helps us when we do not know what to pray (Romans 8:26-27).  

When we pray in Jesus's name, we join Jesus in prayer as he intercedes on our behalf.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer described praying in Jesus name, saying, "All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray."  We have access to God because he made way for us to know him and, through Jesus, we can commune with him in prayer.  We do not approach God in prayer as people trying to prove our acceptability, but as people redeemed by Jesus.


It is God's design that we would draw unto Him in prayer by the power of the Spirit to more fully know the Triune God.


A false understanding of the Trinity changes how we pray.  If we do not understand who God is and what he has done to reconcile us to himself, we will approach God in prayer in the wrong manner.  Instead of approaching God as a loving Father, we will come to him expecting his frustration over our shortcomings, forgetting that we have access through his Son.  If we do not see Jesus as vital to our prayers, we will pray, wondering if God hears us, rather than trusting that, in Jesus, God hears our prayers.

Let us know our God, who exists in Trinity, and enjoy all the blessings he has secured for us in Jesus!



  Steven Castello // Pastor of Community Life

  Steven Castello // Pastor of Community Life

Understanding the Trinity: Part One

GOD IS THREE-IN-ONE

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday. It's a day on the liturgical calendar that draws our attention to the biblical teaching that God is three-in-one. As Christians we believe in one God who eternally exists in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person of the godhead is truly and completely God, yet each is distinct from the others.


As Christians we believe in one God who eternally exists in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit


The doctrine of the Trinity originates from the pages of Scripture, and the concept was defended early in church history at the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. From those councils came the Nicene Creed, which affirms the Christian belief in God's three-in-oneness.  It was the African church father Tertullian who first used the word "Trinity" to communicate the idea of God's three-in-oneness.  

Admittedly, this doctrine is a mystery. The Triune God is perplexing. We cannot fully wrap our minds around how God can be one and also three. Unfortunately, throughout history, many have refused to accept the mystery of the Trinity and have fallen into error.

 

TRINITARIAN ERRORS

In the 4th century, a man by the name of Arius denied the full deity of the Son of God. "Arius taught that although God the Son indeed pre-existed as a divine being before the creation of the Universe, he was not 'co-eternal' with God the Father."(1)  In other words, only God the Father is eternal. The infamous Arian chant was, "There was a time when the Son was not."  He believed that the Father created the Son and shared his deity with him. Then together they created and ruled over the world. He was trying to do justice to the idea that God is one, but in so doing, he failed to let the Scriptures fully speak regarded the deity of the Son of God. Sadly, Arius's error has been believed by various groups through history, including modern day Jehovah's Witnesses. 


The Triune God is perplexing! We cannot fully wrap our minds around how God can be one and also three.


Other errors have followed. While some have denied God's THREE-in-oneness, others have denied his three-in-ONENESS. The heresy of Tritheism teaches that there are three Gods: The Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The problem here is that the Bible is explicit: "The Lord our God, the Lord is One." (Deut. 6:4). From Genesis to Revelation the Scriptures clearly teach that there is only one true God (Isa. 45:5, 1 Cor. 8:6). 

Some have maintained that God is three-in-one but have denied the simultaneous nature of God's three-in-oneness. This error is called "modalism" and it is believed by, among others, some groups of pentecostals.  It teaches that God has manifested himself in different ways (modes) at different times: In the Old Testament as Yahweh, in the gospels as Jesus, and after Pentecost as the Holy Spirit. It fails to see that the Bible demonstrates that God has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit at the same time, which we see demonstrated in many places in Scripture, perhaps most clearly at Jesus' baptism. Consider also, how little it would make sense for Jesus to pray if God the Father and God the Son didn't simultaneously exist! Who was he talking to?!

The point in bringing up all of these heresies (dangerous departures from the truth) is to demonstrate what happens when you attempt to over simplify the Bible's teaching on this doctrine. Which, by the way, is why you should always avoid simplistic illustrations to describe the Trinity. Please stay away from illustrations! This is the quickest way to fall into error. God is not like an egg, H2O, a clover, or three-in-one shampoo. 

 

BEHOLD THE WONDER

We must resist that inner-need to logically wrap our minds completely around something we cannot fully understand and instead accept the mystery that is the Trinity. In fact, we shouldn't just accept it, we should embrace it. Even further, we should be comforted by the fact that our God is mysterious and unsearchable (Rom. 11:33). God's incomprehensibility means that he is bigger than me. A god who I could explain and fully comprehend would reduce him to my level, but I long for a God who is so much more than that. I deeply hope for a God immensely greater than I am, and that's exactly who God is.

Why would we ever expect to be able to understand something infinite with our finite minds? It makes sense that mystery surrounds the God of the universe. His complexity and our limited ability to understand him speaks to his greatness and our humanness!  This doesn't mean that we can't know God truly and intimately, we can! And we should wholeheartedly seek to know Him by plumbing the depths of the Scriptures to see all it reveals to us about Him. But this journey will never end, because neither does God. So embrace the mystery and the journey, and pause often to worship and stand in wonder and awe.


God's incomprehensibility means that he is bigger than me. A god who I could explain and fully comprehend would reduce him to my level, but I long for a God who is so much more than that. I deeply hope for a God immensely greater than I am, and that's exactly who God is.


In part two of "Understanding the Trinity" we will unpack the significance of God being three-in-one and see why getting this doctrine right matters.


1. New World Encyclopedia:  http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Arianism


  Andy Adkison // Pastor of Preaching & Vision

  Andy Adkison // Pastor of Preaching & Vision

The Significance of Pentecost

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday on the liturgical calendar. If that language is unfamiliar to you, check out a previous post that explains what the liturgical calendar is and why we've chosen to (loosely) follow it. 

What Is Pentecost?

As Christians, when we refer to Pentecost, we’re talking about a major moment in history when the promise of the Holy Spirit, the hope of the New Covenant, was realized. Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he told his disciples, "You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:5). And, "Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49).  At Pentecost, that promise was fulfilled. 

The language of Pentecost, however, actually dates earlier than that event. Pentecost, which means "fifty," finds its roots in the Old Testament. Every year the Jewish people celebrated Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after Passover. It was the second of three major holy days in Israel. 


God established the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost)

to be observed 50 days after Passover as a way

of celebrating that God doesn’t just rescue his

people and then leave them to themselves, God

ongoingly provides. His salvation is from

beginning to end. He is Jehovah Jireh,

"God, Our Provider".


The Passover Week remembered God’s protection and deliverance of his people from Egypt. It reminded Israel that God had passed over the blood-covered Israelite homes while killing the firstborn of Egypt who were not covered by the blood of a substitute sacrifice. Through this act of judgement God worked Israel's salvation from bondage in Egypt and led them into freedom as his people.

But God didn’t just get his people out of captivity, he eventually led them into a land flowing with milk and honey. So God established the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) to be observed 50 days after Passover as a way of celebrating that God doesn’t just rescue his people and then leave them to themselves, God ongoingly provides. His salvation is from beginning to end. He is Jehovah Jireh, "God, Our Provider". In the book of Leviticus, God instructed Israel:

“You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LORD...You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations." (Leviticus 23:16-21)

So every year, seven weeks after Passover, Jews from all over Israel would trek to Jerusalem, bringing a portion of their grain harvest to God to offer thanks for his provision and faithfulness. It was during this festival that God chose to pour out his Spirit on Jesus' disciples, which is why, as Christians, we celebrate Pentecost. It was fitting that the promise of the Holy Spirit came during a festival focused on God's provision. God has indeed provided in the greatest way imaginable: through the person and work of Jesus, He sent his Spirit to us, to reside in us, that we might know him and live for him. 

What is the Significance of the Spirit?

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Throughout the Old Testament, there was an ongoing issue among God's people. Despite the fact that Israel had God's Law given to them, they couldn't keep it. Over and over again, they kept wandering from God's ways and living in sin and idolatry. The prophets rooted this conundrum in the heart. Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick." (Jeremiah 17:9). Israel's sin-sickness kept them from knowing the Lord intimately, or living for God effectively.

The nation of Israel's sinfulness limited its interaction with the Lord. God's presence was mediated primarily through the tabernacle/temple, and his Spirit would empower only the nation's leader. The average Israelite only knew God in a limited fashion. But the prophet Ezekiel pointed toward a coming day when Israel's problem would be addressed and amended. He spoke of a coming day when God would give them a new heart, and place a new spirit within them. This spirit would be God's very own Spirit, residing in them, causing them to obey Him and walk in his ways. Jeremiah said that as a result, every single member of God's covenant family would know him intimately (Jeremiah 31:34).  When the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the prophets' hope of a new and better day was realized. 

 

The coming of the Spirit means that we can know God in a personal way

But, as it is written,
    “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
    what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:9-16)

Being filled with God’s Spirit means that we can know more God deeply and intimately. Through the Holy Spirit we are given the mind of Christ to know and understand God. In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit is given to teach and guide them into the truth. 

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)


Being filled with God’s Spirit means that we can

know more God deeply and intimately.

Through the Holy Spirit we are given

the mind of Christ to know and understand God.


The Spirit is given to reveal the will of Christ to us.  He imparts wisdom to us through Jesus' words (the Scriptures). As we read the Bible, the Spirit guides us into truth by declaring in our hearts the voice of Jesus. Through the Spirit we can know God intimately and personally. 

 

The coming of the Spirit means that we can live for God in a more powerful way

“Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father....And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:12, 16-17)

The coming of the Spirit means being armed with power. The Holy Spirit fills us to empower us to carry on the work of Christ. Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, revealing himself as the Savior of the world. His miracles and works testified to his identity as the Messiah, beckoning people to believe in him (John 10:37-38). As his disciples, Jesus promised us that with the Spirit in us we would continue his ministry, but do even greater works than him! While there is much debate about what it means to do "greater works" than Jesus, it at least means these two things:

1) Through the Spirit we expand the work of Christ to multiple places at once. During his earthly ministry, Jesus truly and fully human, which meant that he laid aside his omnipresence. As a man, Jesus could only be in one place at one time. Because of Pentecost, the Spirit has been poured out on every believer, so the work of Christ can be in multiple places at once. Wherever Spirit-indwelled believers are, the work of Christ is also. 


Because the Spirit has come, we are empowered

missionaries sent to take the gospel of the

Kingdom to every tongue, nation, and tribe. 


2) Through the Spirit we extend the work of Christ beyond Palestine. The Son of God came to earth as a Jewish man, as Israel's Messiah. Although he came to be the Savior of the world, his ministry was primarily to Israel; but he promised that when the Spirit came, the salvation he came to bring would go from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In fact, he commissioned his disciples to go make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). Because the Spirit has come, we are empowered missionaries sent to take the gospel of the Kingdom to every tongue, nation, and tribe. God's work among his people is not limited to one man or woman, or one place. The work of God is advancing through his people all over the globe! 


  Andy Adkison // Pastor of Preaching & Vision

  Andy Adkison // Pastor of Preaching & Vision

 

 

 

Three Reasons God Allows Suffering In Our Lives

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PAUL’S PROMISE TO TIMOTHY

In the books of 1 and 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul writes to his friend in the faith who was facing challenges as a young minister of the gospel. Timothy's ministry was being met with challenges, opposition, and difficulty. Paul wished to offer instruction, encouragement, and exhortation for his young spiritual brother.  One of the things that Timothy needed to know was that the struggles he was coming up against were par for the course. In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul tells Timothy, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (NLT). 


Suffering for the sake of advancing

the gospel is normal Christianity.


Paul needed to help Timothy understand that experiencing persecution was not a peculiar phenomenon; suffering for Christ is the paradigm. Everyone who is seeking to live for Jesus will at some point suffer for the cause. If you are a Christian seeking to make Jesus known and to advance his Kingdom, then persecution is to be expected. Suffering for the sake of advancing the gospel is normal Christianity. 

Paul doesn’t say exactly what that will look like. He doesn’t say what type of suffering to expect. It could take many different forms. And he doesn’t say when it’s coming…he just says that at some point it will.

If you're like me, the immediate response is, "Why?" Why does suffering have to be the common course for Christians?

Currently our church is working through the book of Philippians together. As I've explored how the church at Philippi came into existence and considered Paul's purpose for writing a letter to them, the theme of joy in suffering has emerged as one of the major ideas Paul wished to convey to this group of believers. He wanted to exhort his Philippian friends to joyfully endure the trials they were experiencing. Similar to his message to Timothy, Paul wanted them to understand that endurance is necessary because suffering is inevitable. But he also wanted them to know that such endurance didn't have to be drudgery; it could actually be filled with joy because suffering as a result of following Jesus is never meaningless. Pain and persecution is always purposeful. God is sovereign over our suffering. 

I see this promise illustrated in the life of the apostle Paul throughout the book of Philippians. Let me offer three ways God was at work amidst Paul's suffering, in hopes of helping us see some reasons why God allows suffering in our lives as well.

 

1: THROUGH SUFFERING, PAUL WAS PLACED IN PROVIDENTIAL POSITIONS TO SHARE ABOUT CHRIST  

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  Philippians 1:12-13 (ESV)

As Paul wrote Philippians, he was under house arrest in Rome. From the outside looking in, his imprisonment would seem debilitating to his gospel ministry. He was stuck at his house with a guard posted up at the door. But in God’s wisdom, through his imprisonment, the gospel spread like a virus among the Roman soldiers. It became known to the entire imperial guard why he was arrested in the first place...for talking about Jesus.  


Pain and persecution is always purposeful...

God is sovereign over our suffering. 


Apparently, Paul actively shared the gospel with the soldiers who stood watch over him. He probably invited them to be part of his Bible studies. Paul's ministry was actually increased through his arrest. Don't miss this key point: these soldiers would've likely never heard the gospel without Paul being arrested. It was through his suffering that they came in contact with the message. Though Paul would've never chosen to be arrested, he was able to see God's providence in it, and because he knew God was at work, he found joy in his suffering. 

The same is true for you and me. In God's perfect wisdom and providence, he may take us into painful places that we initially do not understand–situations we would've never chosen for our selves. But what we will soon discover through the eyes of faith is that this is a perfect setup for the good news to go forth. God is leading us into prime opportunity to make Jesus known. 

 

2: THROUGH SUFFERING, PAUL WAS PROVIDED A PLATFORM TO DEMONSTRATE THE PRECIOUSNESS OF CHRIST.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. Acts 16:25-32 (ESV)

The church in Philippi came into existence during Paul's second missionary journey. Originally intending to go to Asia, Paul was redirected by the Holy Spirit to Macedonia. When he made it to the city of Philippi, Paul began proclaiming the gospel. First, a woman named Lydia came to faith as Paul shared with a group of women about Jesus. Next Paul cast out a demon from a servant-girl, but this act landed he and Silas in prison. (The demon gave the servant-girl divination and fortune-telling powers, which her masters were leveraging to make a profit. Once the demon was gone from the girl, they could no longer use her to make money. This angered them, so they had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in jail). 

So imagine it: Paul rescues a young girl from demonic oppression, and this gets him beaten and thrown in prison. If I were Paul, I would've oscillated between feeling sorry for myself, feeling angry at God, and feeling defeated. I would've been saying to God, "I'm trying to do your will, and this is what it gets me? What gives?!" But Acts 16:25 tells us that instead of complaining, at midnight Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God while in stocks in the prison. 


It is uniquely in our suffering that we

get to show the world that Christ is

supremely precious and satisfying to us.

Nothing makes Jesus look more

glorious than when, in our suffering,

we say, "I'd rather suffer with Christ

than have comfort without him."


At a very low moment, when they could've griped and complained, Paul and Silas demonstrated to the other prisoners and to the jailor that their satisfaction was found in Christ, not in comfort. They illustrated amidst their suffering the joy they had in Jesus. 

It is uniquely in our suffering that we get to show the world that Christ is supremely precious and satisfying to us. Nothing makes Jesus look more glorious than when, in our suffering, we say, "I'd rather suffer with Christ than have comfort without him.Through their joyful endurance, Paul and Silas were ultimately able to lead the jailor and his family to faith in Jesus!

 

3: THROUGH SUFFERING, PAUL EMPOWERED OTHER BELIEVERS TO JOIN IN PROCLAIMING CHRIST

And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:14 (ESV)

As Paul joyfully endured suffering for the the sake of Jesus, other believers were watching. As they saw Paul persevere in the face of persecution, they were emboldened to proclaim the gospel as well. They gained courage to get in on the action and to make Jesus known through Paul's boldness.  

On July 6, 1415, John Hus (whose name means "goose" in Czech) was led to the stake for his beliefs. Hus would be martyred for his faith, but he was unafraid to die and actually predicted that through his death a movement would arise. Some of his last words were: You are going to burn a goose but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.” In other words, Today, you’re going to kill me, but there will be others who come in my footsteps that you cannot silence. 


Boldness in the face of suffering is catalytic.


Hus’ courage emboldened others to stand up to the broken doctrines and systems of the church, one of whom was Martin Luther, who amazingly came along about a 100 years after Hus, just as Hus predicted. As we know, Luther’s 95 Theses were a catalyst to the Protestant Reformation and the advancement of the gospel. Through Hus’ boldness in the face of persecution, others, like Martin Luther, were given courage. And the same could be said of Luther's boldness.  

Boldness in the face of suffering is catalytic. When we endure suffering for Christ, other believers will see it, and the Spirit of God will use this to embolden them to be courageous as well. The African church father Tertullian famously said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Attempts made to silence and squelch the church only strengthen the movement and scatter the seed of the gospel further. The gates of hell cannot prevail against Christ's Kingdom. 

John Piper concludes: "God rules over the sufferings of the church and causes them to spread spiritual power and the joy of faith in a lost world. It is not his only way. But it does seem to be a frequent way. God spurs the church into missionary service by the suffering she endures." 


  Andy Adkison / Pastor of Preaching & Vision

  Andy Adkison / Pastor of Preaching & Vision

Family Worship Guide May 1-6

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Day 1

Theme

The Context of Mark 13

Scripture

Mark 13:1-4

Discussion

Apocalyptic Prophesy in the Bible often leaves Christians in one of two camps: 1) The content is so weighty and otherworldly that is becomes a point of unhealthy obsession; or 2) the language and imagery seems so inaccessible that we is tempted to ignore it and move on. On Sunday morning, Pastor Andy challenged us to neither obsess over nor disengage from the content of Mark 13. Rather, we should seek understanding from Jesus' plain intention and the context of His words.

Throughout his adult life, Jesus had progressively revealed that the priests and temple in Jerusalem were corrupt, oppressive, and had fallen far from God's heart. In Mark 13, Jesus used both plain and illustrative language to foretell God's final judgement on the the temple system and all it represented: He would crush it, just as Christ would be crushed for the sins of man. To the ears of a Jew in Jesus' time, the destruction of the temple would have meant the end of his or her world. In fact, the physical destruction of the temple signified a spiritual unshackling of God's people to multiply to every nation, to all corners of the earth. Jesus is our great high priest and our final sacrifice, freeing his people from the failures and oppression of the temple system.

For Parents

As is appropriate to your child, don't shy away from relaying the fear that the disciples must have felt as Jesus described the destruction of the temple. God caused the destruction so that His people could flourish and grow in beautiful new ways all over the world (including your family, as you are likely of partial or full gentile descent). Use examples of difficulty or strife that your child has experienced or witnessed that ended in greater reward. You could also use the example of childbirth (used by Jesus in verse 8) - great pain and difficulty that resulted in even greater blessing.

Prayer

God, we have faith that you are a good Father to. We struggle to understand Your ways but we trust in you. Forgive us for our fear. Help us to trust You.   Amen.

Song

Good Good Father

Chris Tomlin

 

Day 2

Theme

What Is Clear from Mark 13

Scripture

Mark 13:5-8

Mark 13:9-13

Mark 13:14-23

Discussion

In verses 5-8 Jesus foretells of false teachers, great wars, earthquakes, and famine. He then instructs that when these things happen, "do not be alarmed." This awesome man is our Savior- in his power we can endure patiently and maintain faith while the world cycles through wicked destruction around us. However, our Lord does promise suffering for those who bear witness of him to the world. Jesus offers hope to those who will suffer for his namesake: "...But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (verse 13).

Even after promising great suffering, Jesus provided the hope of the survival (and spreading) of the Church, if they will only obey his instructions and flee Jerusalem at the given time. Consider the Christians who have gone before you, securing and spreading the faith for the present generation. Have you truly given your heart over to the spreading and securing of your faith to those around you and future generations? If not, ask God to change your heart and motivations.

For Parents

Think obedience here- though Jesus' prophecy was miraculous, it must have seemed broad and non-specific on that side of history. However, 30 years after the instructions were given, the disciples obeyed their Lord. Don't be afraid to call your child to obedience (to you and God) with a promise of future understanding. We can always trust that God is good and faithful, even if it is hard to understand in some moments.

Prayer

Lord, thank You that You have dominion over this world. You are great, and greatly to be praised! Strengthen our faith in you. Thank You for Your good news that has spread to the world- to many, including me. Though we don't always understand your ways, we have faith in Your goodness. Amen

Song

King of Everything

Austin Stone Worship

 

Day 3

Theme

The Caution of Mark 13

Scripture

Mark 13:32-37

Discussion

Jesus reframes the disciples' question from verse 4 ("Tell us, when will these things be?") with his answer in verses 32-37. To try and determine a date and time for the temple's destruction or Christ's return is folly. Do not worry about the time, Jesus said; simply stay awake as you wait. Jesus knows our shortcomings. He knows our capacity to become complacent, to lose our missional urgency, to let our flame burn out. Salvation, as Jesus said in verse 13, is for those who endure to the end. Have you evaluated the state of your heart? Are you asleep? Are you dozing? Ask the Lord to reinvigorate you, and to carry you through to the end.

For Parents

Scripture tells us to not grow weary of doing good. Obeying Jesus, praying, reading the Bible, loving others; these are not just things we do at church gatherings or at family dinner. These are the spiritual disciplines of Christians both young and old. Talk to your kids about the rhythms of your family and of their life's and how spiritual disciplines fit into those rhythms.

Prayer

Father, thank you for your love and our grace. Thank you for strength to not get tired of doing what is good. You know our weaknesses. Forgive us when we don't do what is right. We trust you and we love you.

 Song

Jesus Is Better

Austin Stone Worship

Family Worship Guide April 24-29

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 Day 1

Theme

The widow exposes the rich

Scripture

Mark 12:44, "For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put everything she had, all she had to live on."

Discussion

The story of the widow who gave all she had to the Lord reveals what is important when it comes to giving. What matters is not the amount we give, but the condition of our heart when we give. The widow's desire to give all she had, exposes the hearts of the rich people in the story, who gave as a way to show off. They gave out of their abundance, but she gave everything. In what ways does this story expose your heart towards giving. Do you give sacrificially (until it hurts) or out of your abundance?

For Parents

Talk to your children about the importance of giving. This is a great opportunity to teach them gospel fluency, because giving is at the heart of the gospel. For children, especially young children, it may be helpful to use the idea of sharing as a way to teach about giving. Why do we not want to share (give)? Why does God want us to share (give)?

Prayer

Lord, everything we have you gave to us. Forgive us for holding on to our stuff too tightly. Help us to use what you have given us for your glory and the good of others. Help us give until it hurts. Amen.

Song

"All I Have is Christ"

Sovereign Grace Music

 

Day 2

Theme

The widow is an example

Scripture

Mark 12:43, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box."

Discussion

The story of the widow reminds us that giving is not a religious activity to be performed so that God will love us.  The Lord wants us to give sacrificially, out of a generous heart, as an act of worship. We give not in an effort to earn the grace of God, but because He has given us all we need in the work of Jesus. Do you give sacrificially? If not, how can you budget to give out of a generous heart? If not, be reminded that all you have was given to you by a generous and loving Father. Do you give as an act of worship? If not, be reminded of the grace you have in Jesus.

For Parents

Just as the widow in the story set an example for us to follow in regards to giving, so too as parents you set an example for your children. Many of our habits are caught, not taught. Do you set a good example of giving to your children? The next time you give do so as a family and include your children in the process. Remind them that what God has given is enough for your family and He wants you to give to honor Him. Ask them, why is it a good thing to give? What does giving show us about our trust in God? How can we set an example of giving for others?

Prayer

Father, you freely gave of yourself to us in Jesus. Remind us every day of your grace. Help us to give sacrificially, out of generous heart, as an act of worship. All we have is yours and you are enough for us. Amen.

Song

"Christ is Enough"

Hillsong

 

Day 3

Theme

The widow knows everything belongs to God

Scripture

Mark 12:42, "And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny."

Discussion

The story of the widow reminds us that everything we have belongs to God and has been given to us by Him. This not only applies to our money, but also to our talents, skills, and other abilities. All of our time, talent, and treasure are an abundant gift from the Lord. Our job is to steward well what He has given us for the good of others and His glory. Are you giving of your time for the good of others and the glory of God? If not, what are ways you can prioritize your time better? Are you giving of your talent for the good of others and the glory of God? If not, what are ways you need to start serving either in the church or your community? Are you giving of your treasure for the good of others and the glory of God? If not, what are practical ways you can prioritize your budget to be a better steward of your money?

For Parents

Talk to your children about the theme that everything you have belongs to God. He has given your family everything you have to use well for His kingdom. Also make it personal for each of your children in regards to their talents and gifts. Ask them, what talent or gift has God given you? How can you use that talent or give to honor God? How can God use our family to help others?

Prayer

Father, all that I have belongs to you and you have been given it to me for the good of others and your glory. Help me to see how I need to be a better steward of all three. Even if what I have is doesn't seem like much, You gave it to me and my family to be used for Your kingdom. Amen.

Song

"Let Your Kingdom Come"

Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey

Family Worship Guide April 17-22

Day 1

Theme

The Story of Easter

Scripture

Mark 15:22-Jesus Died

Mark 15:42-Jesus Was Buried

Mark 16:1-5 Jesus Rose Again

Discussion

Jesus says that the reason why he came was to offer up his life as a ransom. That word ransom in the first century was typically used to communicate the price paid to redeem or free a slave or a captive. To ransom someone was to pay a price in order to set them free.  Jesus said that he came to offer up his life as a ransom payment for our sins. Are you living your life in freedom, knowing that Jesus has paid for your sins? Confess to your family ways that you are not trusting in Christ to forgive you.  Identify specific sins that you need to repent of and let the freedom in Christ wash over you.

For Parents

Reread the Easter Story with your children.  Then ask them to tell you the story in their own words.  As Pastor Andy said, "We live in a culture that loves to tell stories." Therefore, our children need to know how to accurately articulate the Easter Story with others.

Prayer

God,

Thank you for Jesus!  Thank you that He lived the life we could not live, and died the death we deserved to die.  Help us to continually repent of our sins, knowing that you paid for them on the cross.

Song

Jesus Forever by Austin Stone Kids Worship

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHnuSahfjgk

 

Day 2

Theme

The Significance of Easter

Scripture

I Corinthians 15

Discussion

In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us why the resurrection is important. Jesus has conquered sin and death, our greatest enemies, and given us hope. Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we have hope that we, too, will go to be with Jesus when our earthly bodies die.  We can be assured of this hope if we are trusting in Christ alone for our salvation. The significance of Easter is a promise of new life found in Jesus, and that future can begin right now!

For Parents

Talk with your kids about what a relationship with Christ looks like.  Tell the story of when Christ saved you!  What a glorious day!  Remind your kids that they can have that same hope by repenting and trusting in Christ.  Discuss what it means to follow Jesus in everyday life.

Prayer

Father,

Thank you for the resurrection.  It is because you rose from the dead on the third day that we can have eternal life.  Soften our hearts toward you.  Come, Holy Spirit, and move in the lives of my children.  Make us more like your son, Jesus.

Song

In Christ Alone by Kristian Stanfill

https://youtu.be/wNRFumI2ch0

 

Day 3

Theme

The Summons of Easter

Scripture

Matthew 28:19-20

Discussion

The summons of Easter is to embrace this story and make it your own, to believe it as true, and to build your life around it. As you read "The Great Commission," Jesus tells us to go and make disciples.  This is our story, and the Lord has entrusted us with it so that we may tell others.

Jesus died for our sins.

Jesus was buried.

Jesus rose from the dead.

He’s alive.

He’s the King.

He’s coming again.

For Parents

Discuss "The Great Commission" with your kids.  Memorize these verses as a family this week.  Write them on a sticky note and put them everywhere in your house.  Take turns reciting the verses at supper time.  Encourage your kids by memorizing the verses with them.

Prayer

Father,

We thank you that you're coming again, and that you've called us to tell others the good news of your resurrection. Give us awe and wonder over this great story of sending your Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

Song

Tell the World by Austin Stone Kids Worship

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXk1TFL52Ho

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